Flashbulb memories are defined as moments that are recalled with a vivid memory and associated emotion. In my life, there are a few: sitting in my 7th-grade music classroom watching the September 11 attacks on television; sitting in my college dorm room, and learning that President Obama would become the first Black president of the United States.
March 12th, 2020 will live in my memory forever as another flashbulb moment, the day I huddled my staff to share that we would be closing school for two weeks. I remember so much about that moment and the days after; I remember the palpable tension in the air and the feeling of claustrophobia that I felt trying to hold my composure as I stood in a circle surrounded by my incredible and resilient staff members. I also remember the feeling of hands pressing down on my shoulders as I wondered, and worried, about how my students would learn and how my teachers would teach.
When I learned that we would be inviting students back to our school, sooner than expected, my mind went through a version of the emotional gymnastics that it has become accustomed to over the course of this pandemic. My school, along with so many others across the country, is working to figure out what this ‘new post-pandemic ‘normal’ looks like and feels like. As students return, educators are faced with tackling the many impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic including pandemic-associated trauma, racialized trauma, learning loss, and, of course, Zoom fatigue.
Over the past few months, I have come to realize that there is a lot that is simply is out of my locus of control. Narrowing and focusing on what is in my locus of control has been both difficult and empowering. As we welcome students back into our building, there are tried and true practices, such as looking at student work, that my school team can leverage to mitigate and respond to some of the academic impacts of the pandemic on students.
Looking at student work has long been a best practice used by teachers to gain insight into what students learned and what students need additional support learning; as our school, and so many others, settles back into the new normal, it is more important than ever to have a nuanced understanding of student mastery in order to quickly close gaps in student understanding and move student learning forward.
As a school leader, I believe that when schools commit to a rigorous examination of student outcomes, they position teachers to move the needle on student achievement. When teachers invest in examining student work, they are much better positioned to adjust their instruction in a way that is responsive to student needs, resulting in stronger student mastery. We have learned a lot in our quest to relaunch looking at student work along with reopening our doors for students. As schools launch or refine looking at student work practices, here are a few considerations to support these efforts:
Invest teachers in the ‘why’ of looking at student work
Any successful initiative is rooted in a strong ‘why’. Schools seeking to launch or refine looking at student work practices can benefit from helping teachers see the benefit of looking at student work. The National Turning Points Center for Collaboration offers five benefits to looking at student work:
When schools move from focusing on teacher inputs to a collaborative and rigorous examination of student outcomes, they position teachers to move the needle on student achievement. When teachers invest in examining student work, they are much better positioned to adjust their instruction in a way that is responsive to student needs, resulting in stronger student mastery.
Collect both qualitative and quantitative student work
Qualitative and quantitative data are both useful when looking at student work and offer different insights into student mastery.
Quantitative data is focused on the numerical data associated with student work. This can take the form of grades, standards tracking, or exit ticket tracking. This can be helpful as educators seek to analyze whole-class mastery, patterns of mastery across subgroups as well as individual student mastery over time. The image below is one example of a tracker, made in google docs, that can be used to assess student mastery at the class level or at the individual level.
Qualitative data is focused on the characteristics of student work samples. Traditionally, educators have collected and analyzed physical student work; to facilitate storing and sharing of student work samples, educators can use tools such as EdLight to collect and store student work samples to be looked at by individual teachers or shared across teaching teams. Below are examples of screenshots of student work that reflect student’s level of understanding. Notice that looking at these samples helps one answer the question “What is the student thinking behind their answer?”
Both quantitative and qualitative data can offer important insights into student thinking - both can be used to answer the questions “did students learn the content?” and “is learning happening equitably?”
Determining the Purpose of Looking at Student Work
As educators look at student work, protocols can offer structure and purpose to discussions. This protocol walks educators through looking at a variety of questions designed to identify whether students met the learning outcomes and then identify transferable teaching practices that educators can carry into future lessons.
In determining which protocol to use, our team leveraged the expertise of teacher leaders to pilot, refine and provide feedback on the LASW protocol. This process of interaction and practice resulted in teachers having a voice in a protocol that drove robust, interesting dialogue.
The four major sections that appear in this protocol include:
Though this protocol focuses on identifying transferable practices from LASW samples, LASW can be leveraged for many other purposes as well. School teams may adopt LASW protocols that are aligned to these additional outcomes:
Implement structures to support LASW
An initiative is often only as strong as the structures put in place to drive it forward. A few questions that are helpful to consider are below:
As our school welcomes students back into the classroom after a very long year, we are aware that we will need to work steadfastly to address gaps in learning and to make sure that every moment of instruction moves students closer to meeting grade-level outcomes. Looking at student working is a tried and true practice that we have invested in and that educator teams in schools across contexts can use to evaluate the quality of student work and make informed adjustments to classroom instruction.
Get the Toolkit here.
Read Farida’s case study on how she transitioned to a school-wide priority of looking at student work here.